A cervicogenic headache is a pain that develops in the neck and is felt in the head. It is a headache that results from another condition, such as a neck trauma or infection.
People may confuse cervicogenic headaches with migraine and tension headaches, both of which can cause neck pain.
Cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches. Secondary headaches result from an underlying condition, such as neck injuries, infections, or severe high blood pressure. This sets them apart from primary headaches, such as migraine and cluster headaches.
In this article, we discuss some symptoms, causes, and treatments for cervicogenic headaches.
In most cases, cervicogenic headaches develop on one side of the head, starting from the back of the head and neck and radiating toward the front.
Some other symptoms of a cervicogenic headache
- pain around the eyes
- pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm on one side
- head pain from certain neck movements or positions
Cervicogenic headaches result from structural problems in the neck and are often due to problems with vertebrae at the top of the spine, called the cervical vertebrae. The
Some people develop cervicogenic headaches due to straining their necks. People can also develop cervicogenic headaches after an injury to the neck. This is better known as whiplash.
Some medical conditions that can cause cervicogenic headaches include:
After assessing a person’s symptoms and medical history, doctors
- Physical assessment: If physical manipulation of the head and spine alters or resolves symptoms, it may indicate a cervicogenic headache.
- Nerve blocks: A doctor may administer a nerve block to the neck if they suspect a cervicogenic headache. If this pain-numbing injection stops symptoms, it can confirm the neck as the root of the headache.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as MRI scans, can help assess the bone, tissue, and nerve structure of the neck. This can rule out physical malformations and aid diagnosis.
Treatments for cervicogenic headaches focus on removing the cause of the pain. Treatments vary depending on the person and the severity of their symptoms.
Some treatments for cervicogenic headaches include:
Physical therapy is often the
People can work with a physical therapist to develop specialized treatment programs. At the first appointment, a physical therapist will identify the source of the pain. From there, they may stimulate the soft tissue and move the joints around to relieve painful symptoms.
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- muscle relaxers
- antiseizure medications
A doctor can inject pain-numbing medication into nerves and joints in the head and neck. These often provide pain relief and
People with chronic headaches
A doctor will then apply the needle to the nerve that is causing the pain. The heat from the needle effectively deadens the nerve, interrupting the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS units use small electrodes a doctor places on the skin to send small electrical signals to stimulate nerves near the source of pain.
Neuromodulation is a surgery that involves the use of certain devices, which may be non-invasive or invasive.
When connected to a pulse generator via a thin wire, electrodes stimulate the occipital nerve, which runs from the top of the spinal cord to the head. This therapy
People can also try a form of physical therapy called sustained natural apophyseal glide (SNAG). SNAG involves using a towel to manipulate the areas of the neck that are causing painful symptoms. A physical therapist can teach a person how to do SNAG at home.
In 2022, a
People may also find that specific exercises and alternative treatments help with pain relief, including headaches. These include:
A cervicogenic headache can become debilitating without diagnosis and treatment.
People should contact their healthcare professional if they experience a headache along with:
Below are some commonly asked questions about cervicogenic headaches.
What does a cervicogenic headache feel like?
A cervicogenic headache can often be confused with other types of headaches, but the
What is the red flag for cervicogenic headaches?
Aside from neck pain and stiffness, a red flag that a person is experiencing a cervicogenic headache is any of the following symptoms:
- weight loss
- sudden onset
- having a previous history of headaches or changes in how a person experiences them
What mimics cervicogenic headache?
Occipital neuralgia is a type of headache that starts in the upper neck or back of the head and can radiate behind the eyes and over the scalp. It shares identical symptoms to a cervicogenic headache.
Other conditions that can mimic a cervicogenic headache
A cervicogenic headache is a type of secondary headache that results from problems in the neck. Causes of a cervicogenic headache include malformations of the cervical vertebrae, injuries to the neck, inflammation, and other medical conditions.
Without treatment, a cervicogenic headache can worsen and become debilitating. People can experience chronic or recurrent headaches that do not respond to medication.
People can relieve their symptoms at home or through a combination of therapeutic, surgical, and medicinal methods.